American Airlines Penalizes Employees Who Buy Their Own Travel To Ensure They’re Ready To Work

One of the best benefits of working for an airline is staff travel, or nonrevving (traveling as a non-revenue passenger). That’s usually standby, and with flights full it’s been harder than ever. One of the best perks is premium cabin travel when seats are empty. American Airlines is eliminating Flagship First class because that cabin has often been mostly empty – but that means nonrev travelers lose out on the very best perk.

There are numerous rules that go along with flying so-called ‘free’ (there are often fees for international travel, and for some there can be tax consequences as well).

One of the stranger ones on American Airlines is that employees cannot book conflicting paid travel and non-rev travel. In fact, they aren’t even allowed to list for non-rev travel on American is they have paid or mileage award tickets with the same origin and destination within 24 hours on another airline like Delta.

  • Even if you cancel your paid or award travel first, you aren’t allowed to list with American 24 hours before or after the time of that reservation.

  • Ostensibly this is because the non-revenue passenger had been holding space that might have been sold to someone else, and so there’s potential revenue loss to the company. But that’s exactly what they allow revenue passengers to do now that most fares have eliminated change fees (and they sell refundable tickets!). And they don’t limit the rule to protect American’s revenue, it applies to space on United and Delta too.

Here’s why this really makes no sense. American Airlines won’t give ‘positive space’ travel (confirmed reservations) to employees who need to commute to their base city to start their trip. An employee might be based in Los Angeles, but live in Las Vegas. And they need to get to L.A.

So they buy a paid ticket as backup out of their own pocket to make sure they show up on time, and of course they try to non-rev on American.

If they make it onto an American flight, they’ll cancel the Delta space to use later (likely using it as a backup again for a later trip). In this case the employee potentially coming out of pocket helps American Airlines to stay reliable.

It’s actually smart for an employee to buy a backup itinerary now that most fares have no change fees, since they may be able to use one ticket purchase over and over again as a hedge, until they get unlucky and have to use that ticket to go to work. Of course buying revenue travel on Delta, and then cancelling the itinerary, isn’t costing American money and isn’t something American is likely to know about, either.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. General industry cooperation to not do that. I totally get it. Otherwise you have your own employees causing mass amount of loss revenue. I have never not made it to work because I can’t get on a flight but if that happens there are commuter clauses there for your protection. Only a few more months of commuting for me then I’m based at home. Commuting is a real nightmare

  2. It’s the employee’s choice to live away from their base ..

    This Policy is in place for ALL EMPLOYEES not just flight crews.. additionally FAs can standby and fly in a jump seat if no other seat is available.

  3. Louise … not always. Some people move and set up their families in one city and choose an airline based on where the bases are. A few years later that base may close. Airline employees can’t just move to another airline without giving up what could be a lifetime of seniority. Not everyone can just move their family every time a base closes. It’s a very incredible benefit to be able to commute for free and there are commuter clauses to protect those who can’t make it for whatever reason. The title of this article is extreme in how it’s worded. Employee aren’t penalized for buying tickets … employees are penalized for buying tickets on the same route they are flying standby on.

  4. I’m not sure how AA knows when any passenger, let alone their employees, books a reservation on another airline.
    Of course it makes sense for an airline not to allow an employee to fly standby for free in a market where they have previously bought a confirmed ticket.
    The A321T first class discussion has been had on OMAAT but if AA was not selling sufficient numbers of seats in first class to justify the cabin, how employees use it has nothing to do with the math AA had to use to choose to eliminate it.
    Commuting is a choice. No other employee in any other industry would expect to be able to work hundreds if not thousands of miles from a job. If you want to do it and can make it work, fine, but don’t expect any special privileges to live that kind of lifestyle. Plenty of crews do actually drive to their own base – like the vast majority of Americans that still go to work.

  5. A few notes as an AA occasional nonrev… booking a nonrev ticket only generates a PNR and does not actually hold back any seats from being sold. As for the rule- the main reason is that if you have a nonrev ticket and check in, then the gate agent or system will might clear it- this can cause issues should you have an existing paid PNR. I’ve never heard of the 24 hour rule or flying another airline with a nonrev PNR for the same O/D but can see it possibly creating an issue with TSA. When I nonrev I book my travel through the portal and then just hand the TSA agent my ID as it will find me in the database matching my precheck number – no need for a ticket but can pull up the bar code in my email if then need it. I’ll then go to the gate and if I clear- the agent will then hand me a boarding pass for my confirmed seat.

    The main goal for their nonrev rules is to creat more predictability and less havoc for others trying to nonrev.

  6. International first class is very seldom empty and, particularly post-Covid, is almost impossible to obtain a first class seat in.

    But the seats are not full of first class paying passengers.

    It is full of revenue upgrades and award tickets, both of which are supposedly an award for showing AA loyalty.

    AA is now taking that away.

    BTW, I have never seen the rule against buying a revenue ticket on another carrier when listed for a non-rev seat on AA. In fact, AA would never know.

    All I see in the Travel Guide is:

    “Employees, retirees, eligible travelers and guests
    who hold a confirmed reservation, have
    purchased a revenue ticket or redeemed miles
    for a flight are not allowed to also list as a nonrevenue
    pass traveler on that flight or any other
    flights with that same routing within 24 hours
    from the departure time of the flight a revenue
    ticket has been booked or purchased.”

  7. I don’t get the complaint here. They’re choosing to live out of base and they knew the rules when they made that choice. It’s about as logical as saying AA is “penalizing” crew who live in base by making them pay for a car and gas to get to work.

  8. @Tim Dunn

    “No other employee in any other industry would expect to be able to work hundreds if not thousands of miles from a job.:

    Absolutely not true. Thousands of Americans commute by air for their jobs. It is very common in IT, accounting, and government for employees to commute. And, I am not even touching upon the thousands of employees who moved to ‘work from home’ because of Covid. Not all road warriors are visiting clients!

  9. JohnB,
    and employees in all those other industries pay for their commute and do not have the option to fly standby.
    American would be happy if their employees wanted to buy a ticket and they don’t mind if you fly standby. They just don’t want you to try and do both and pick the best option.

  10. Hi I’ll make flight attendant I usually ride a jump seat haven’t had any problems well maybe some over the years but you have to be qualified to ride the assembly. I can’t really make this suggestion because it only works for me I personally am the flexible type of employee which means I basically don’t have a life LOL no family no siblings wife girlfriend know that and I am very good looking ladies I’m available LOL no getting back to what I was saying try to make your domicile your home that’s what I have done there is always good in every city even in Detroit I know a lot of us miss our relatively I miss mine I’ll never see them again and I’m completely single but you know what I’m more happy with the job you have to decide what brings you more happiness the job of commuting back home I know a lot of times spouses and girlfriends have commitments you have commitments but it’s all about flexibility they love you enough The Love Will survive it’s strong enough so good luck and make the best any work there’s a lot of beautiful places in this country

  11. Mr Leff-

    With all do respect, This has always been, at every airline…. Employees (should) know not to cancel paid space if they do this its stupidity…. this was hammered into my thick skull in training Day 1 back in 1997 talking about pass Benefits….

    Retired 22 year airline employee

  12. How many employees actually book revenue tickets for commuting? I can’t imagine it’s very many. Maybe some with somewhat crazy commutes (like from Guam to continental US).

    I’m sure the airlines are worries about people booking revenue tickets for a vacation or personal trip, and then canceling that ticket. If done last minute, they know the seats are held for the revenue ticket, and they know their position on the standby list and how full the flight is. Imho, that’s a pretty clear abuse of the system.

    If this is actually a problem, perhaps the airline can sell them tickets, for their commute route only, with the condition that if the plane goes out with empty seats (or they would have otherwise cleared on standby), they get refunded, or partially refunded. Then the employees are protected on routes, and the airline doesn’t lose potential revenue.

  13. Is this really any of our business? Unless we work for an airline, none of this really matters to us, IMHO.

    The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads as follows: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” In other words, no one is being forced to work for an airline. If this provision is as onerous as Mr. Leff makes it out to be, the affected parties are free to leave their employment. Moreover, these issues are collectively bargained, and it’s that important, it can be negotiated. If a person doesn’t like the outcome of the negotiation, he or she is free to pursue the option mentioned above – work elsewhere.

  14. Gary, you’re citing a rule that’s been around since the ’80s or longer, then putting a click-bait title on it.
    Stop it, you’re becoming irritating.

    It’s to prevent airline employees booking a seat (and thus holding a seat) and then ultimately flying standby (for free) in that held seat. A simple rule that makes sense. All employees know it.
    I’m not aware that airlines can track bookings on other (non-affiliated) airlines. I’ve worked in the industry for 30+ years.

  15. I’ve commuted.every week for 32 years and still flying. It’s common practice to oversell a flight bc the airlines have a “percent’ figured that won’t show up. Non revs get a seat IF AVAILABLE. They could care less about my listing for that purpose. What they do not want are employees listing on multiple flights and using different statuses. It’s away to control the “cheaters” and keep it as fair as possible. More airline people commute than most can imagine. It’s not just crew, it’s displaced or by.choice, mechanics, ramp, agents, managers. Pilots have negotiated space positive commuting. Airlines.are all different, I read some comments and wonder where they came up with their info. I have personally never purchased a ticket to get to work or home. I plan accordingly, and if I don’t make it, not very often, there is the commuter policy of which has its own rules as well. Every job has its perks, ours is the ability to live where ever. It’s not a new concept. AA just announced it is closing the SFO base. That’s 400 employees that will either have to move, commute, quit or retire, and not just flight crew, it affects ALL employees. Some that have never commuted on a flight a day in their life. And LAX is not an option, its closed to transfers, even for displacement.
    I’m merely stating info, not complaining, so any drama queens and s*** stirrers out there, zip it. I like my job. Granted it’s not what it was and has changed immensely over 32 years, but so does most everything.
    I could go on, especially about what some of these so called travel experts say to the public about traveling. Ugh. But that’s another story.

  16. This post is your worst ever. You are totally ignorant about airline employees commuting to work. Try actually knowing what you are talking about before you post.

  17. The only thing I don’t get about this policy is why they apply it to other airlines. American doesn’t lose any revenue if their employees cancel a Delta or Southwest ticket at the last minute because there are enough open seats to non-rev on AA.

    But, as Tim Dunn noted, this aspect of the policy is basically impossible to enforce. AA has no way of knowing whether its employees cancel a United ticket at the last minute because they non-reved on AA instead.

  18. If Ford has to close a plant, do you think thier employees get free transport to work at a different plant 300 miles away?
    What irks me is that “standby” employees often are place in upgraded seats vs. putting loyalty members in them.

  19. The ignorance of the general public when it comes to airlines and the travel industry. The most brilliant one said it’s not your business if you don’t work for them.
    The expectation to live in base is outdated. With a good percentage of the workforce in this industry being less than 2 years old, and the cost of housing… the cost of living having outpaced wages exponentially, many people can’t afford to even think to live in base. The markets in big cities where one paycheck won’t even cover rent. Not everyone was born in 1901 and has the seniority and money to afford 3k in rent every month. The airlines of the time when these policies were designed, no longer exist. The schedules are more packed, the benefits are slim and job protection is non existent. You say no other job has people who commute thousands of miles. No other job doesn’t have a sick policy, no other job tries to figure out the most restrictive rules to abide by in certain states to under pay it’s employees, no other job has to serve the population and deal with the ire of lunatics over weather. This is not like any other job and cannot be compared. Employees in the airline industry are overworked, underpaid and get less job protection than a cashier at burger king. These employees getting to work is what gets you people to Honolulu for no real reason. These people being able to get to work is what gets people to the capitol to riot without consequence. These people getting to work is what ensures people can be there for the birth of their child or to. Say goodbye to their mom. No other job does that either. Flight crew need to be able to get to work to serve the pissy ungrateful people who think it’s all a choice. It’s not always. When ther are 13 locations you can work out of across the planet and only 4 are available for you to work out of, it’s not a choice. When you live in base and have to commute out of base because the base is closed to transfers and new hires, and has been for more than a decade, it’s not a choice. It is a choice to fly and b***** and complain about something you would lose your sh** over if it affected you. It’s not a choice, the policies are outdated and those who are ignorant should find other things to cry about. Stay on the ground, drive. We know you’re a nightmare to have on a flight.

  20. Gary,

    Copy edit better.

    ‘In fact, they aren’t even allowed to list for non-rev travel on American is they have paid…”

    Should be IF, not is.

  21. Jack, don’t forget getting to Minneapolis or New York to riot, burn businesses and destroy public building with absolutely no punishment what so ever. And sure, why not get rid of the airlines since paying for an airline ticket to go on vacation is ridiculous. After all it is for “no reason.”

  22. when will @gary learn that he’s an idiot who needs new sources for information.

    His material has become just pathetic. I’ve offered to assist him in writing competent material, but he feels he’s far superior to those of us who ACTUALLY work in the industry and don’t claim to be professionals of the trade by way of buying our own tickets.


  23. This is actually a ZED rule, so it applies to 100+ airlines.

    You can NOT have both a revenue ticket and non rev listing on the same flight, you have to cancel one of them.

    An airline did an audit a few years ago that doesnt charge change fees and has low refundable fares. A LOT of employees would buy a refundable ticket on this airline, then go make a nonrev listing. 1 hour before flight, they’d cancel and refund the **revenue** ticket, in hopes it keeps a seat open for them. Other airlines caught wind of this at a conference (I was there!) and did their own research. One in particular noticed a lot of staff were doing this and well, yeah. Another airline saw staff would do the same with mileage tickets – buy a seat, and have a nonrev listing, and cancel/refund the mileage ticket then get on for free.

    this is more than just commuters, its leisure travel too.

  24. To the clown over at Ford making the stupid comment about being a loyalty member that should have more rights over a non-rev member. Who actually bought your airline ticket, you or your company??? I’m real tired of hearing about these elitist complaining that they’re loyalty members when in fact their company is the one actually paying for the ticket and their employee gets the benefit… Now if that money was coming actually out of your pocket then you have every right to complain. But yes we do, as all airline employees, deserve to have a nice seat once in awhile… Especially on vacation! At least we check our attitude at the door and not on the plane!

  25. This really is nobody’s businesses except the employee’s. If you want to buy a ticket on another airline to get to work…who cares? All it makes you is a dependable and consciousness employee. Duh. Kinda a no-brainer. Oh yes, I forgot…so many have no brains anymore. Stay in your own lane and you won’t get run over.

  26. I don’t work in the airline industry but I don’t envy the people that do. It’s a tough job and they all work hard. I challenge most people to work on the ground crews or in cramped airliners like airline employees.

  27. This is a non issue. This article needn’t have been written. Employees who cancel their non-rev last minute alter the dynamics of ticket sales and even affect the decision making of their fellow employee non revvers if you will. Do your research. Ask people who do this.

  28. Gah this is really dumb. I don’t understand the point of this article. I know lots of comments say this already, but I just have to add to the list.

    1. Holding a revenue seat, in the hope you can get one for free that same day is stealing from your airline. You are preventing that seat from being sold to a passenger who would have purchased it. It is called standby for a reason, if you can’t handle the risk don’t do it.
    2. No one on earth is forced to commute!! They want to live one place, but work in another. Yes bases close and that sucks. But if you don’t want to commute, move. Just like EVERY OTHER JOB ON EARTH when your local “office” closes. Don’t want to commute on standby still? Quit. Commuters have it pretty good, live where you want to, get the highest priority, and ability to jumpseat. You can get on that plane if it is 100% full if you are at the top.

    Have back up plans, be flexible, know your limits. If you can’t be flexible, don’t fly standby. Most airlines offer their employees discounts on revenue tickets, buy one. This is also not just American Airlines, bet you cannot find a single airline that allows this.

    I’ve flown hundreds of thousands of miles on standby, sometimes it is amazing. Sometimes is sucks, but I would not trade those benefits for the world.

  29. Nonrevs do not “hold a spot” from paid travelers. Oversales and revenue passengers always come first.

  30. While it is True that commuting airline employees have a choice to live in base or commute, as made by several commenters, it is also true that airlines would not be able to adequately fill the positions from only that cities labor pool. If the could they would.
    Therefore a commuting option is a win/win bennefit for the company and employee.

  31. Ethically it’s just wrong and shouldn’t be allowed.
    Booking a seat and then closing the ticket at the last moment means the airline was prevented from being able to sell that seat because you held it. That’s not fair to the airline be it the one they work for or another airline.
    It’s really just outright fraud. You are booking a ticket fully intending not to use it if at all possible.
    I’m all for having people figuring out a backup for anything they do but it should not be at the expense of other people or companies.
    You do have the ability to check out seat availability for standby. It gives a pretty good idea if you’ll be able to get out on any given flight to are chosen destination on the day in question. Now that can change dramatically due to a mechanical on an airline, or your own, and everybody runs and fills up those empty seats so it’s not 100%. However it does give you an idea if you might need to go a day early or a less direct route to get to where you going.
    Anybody who works outside of their house has to commute either sure or long distance it’s their choice. Lots of companies close offices or move them and if you pick a a company that traditionally does that sort of thing you either go with a flow or change jobs you don’t take business away from a company or prevent other families and traveling because they’re not in the seats on the airplane they want to go on because you’re holding a seat along with other friends and none of you have any intention of using them if at all possible.

  32. I think you may have this backwards. I can’t see any was this hurts American. The nonrev passenger only gets a seat if the seat hasn’t been sold. Who possibly gets hurt is the airline with which the nonrev has booked. If they cancel at the last minute that airline may lose a rev seat. Now if the rev seat was booked on American, then the rule would make sense. But otherwise it may just be an agreement between airlines. Do any other airlines have this rule? Maybe it’s a common agreement.

  33. R
    Airline employees are the most self entitled, spoiled employees in the world.

    Joe G.
    That’s ridiculous. Every other industry finds workers in the geography they need them.

  34. Easy solution to this problem. Just require your employees to live within 100 miles of base. This industry has a problem of letting the employees set the rules of the airline instead of the other way around. If you don’t want to live where you work than maybe you are in the wrong business. And I don’t want to hear the excuse of I csnt afford to live there so I must commiute. I realize most commutes are probably within 500 miles. but what about the captain for your next flight commuting from la to nyc and then “safely” flying you from nyc to India. The company needs to start taking control of its “team members”….dont like it…here’s the door. Long story short dont make your problem the companies problem

  35. God damn this is the worst kind of clickbait the kind that makes the airlines look bad but really it’s just the author being a dumbass and not understanding how business works in a certain industry. If I were you I would just delete this because it’s trash and it makes you look stupid.

  36. @j. williams – when you criticize something without pointing out a single thing that you believe to be incorrect that doesn’t make you look smart?

  37. Hey Gary, so I checked with the Travel/Pass Bureau managers for a few airlines and the rules do vary from carrier to carrier. While we do have the IATA/ZED rule/regulation regarding having both a standby listing AND revenue ticket for the same flight, some airlines are going a step further and prohibiting both a non-rev listing on flight 123 and then having a confirmed seat on flight 789, getting on flight 123 as a non-rev then cancelling flight 789. American has that rule within a 24 hour period.

    Southwest has also had the same rule for a while, they also don’t like folks who go from a revenue ticket status to a non-rev standby status. (full disclosure: I did get in trouble for doing this, was on a connection, had a super long layover, and there was delayed earlier flight, but the agents wanted to charge me the add-collect to move over to that flight (it was like a $300+ “change’) – so I just went on myIDTravel and booked a ZED-LOW ticket for like $25. and got on.

  38. You really dont know what you are talking about, and seem ro have NRSS, PS, Zed, and PCT completely messed up. Did you copy and paste this information feom several sources? The only eule of thumb is you cannot list multiple times for the same flight, and even that is not fully monitored. Most folks will list on NRSA, then ID90 as a backup, and finally rev confirmed as a last minute option,

  39. What American might want to put forth the effort to look into instead is employee abuse of flight benefits.

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